When Greg Gecas grew up on Gunflint Lake, electrical service was shaky and the 47-mile drive to Grand Marais was a three-hour trek that included stops for car sickness.
His grandparents owned and operated Heston's Lodge, a North Woods retreat that's still no bigger than five cabins. Greg and his wife, Barb, bought the place in 1989 from Greg's mom, Sharlene, and raised three children. The kids lacked television but made close, lasting friendships with some of the resort's loyal summer guests.
"We could double in size if we wanted to but it would eliminate the very thing that brings people here," Gecas said of the family business.
The lure is tranquillity. Even on a "busy" summer weekend, there won't be more than a handful of boats within eyesight of his dock. When the lodge opens each winter from Christmas until February, guests wander out to fish, ski or snowshoe. They also hunker down and read, sequestered in cabins hidden by spruce, cedar and white pine.
As time goes by, Gecas admits to some uneasiness about the arrival of high-speed internet and more humans.
Most obvious in 2020 was the increase in year-round residency, he said. As a longtime snowplow driver, Gecas never saw many tire tracks in the driveways of his customers. Now those signs of people appear frequently, even on weekdays.
A diehard picker of wild blueberries, Gecas said he's starting to encounter more competitors in patches he once considered hidden. At the lodge last summer, a prospective customer asked if Jet Skis could be rented. The answer, of course, was "no.'' But Gecas said it was the first time anyone ever asked.
Now 61, Gecas was 11 when his grandfather died. Myrl Heston was a Chicagoan who bought the lodge in 1943. "I bought a paradise,'' he told his cousin, Virl, who was then stationed in the South Pacific. After the war, Virl moved next door. Eventually, he mentored Gecas on how to fix things and work out of jams.
Gecas said the Gunflint has been slowly losing characters like Virl, who died in the mid-1990s. Gone are an age of shack-dwelling trappers, hired hands, and fishing guides whom Gecas admired as gifted woodsmen. "You just don't see them anymore,'' he said.
When locals meet for coffee this winter, they wonder if people who visit the area are losing regard for its pristine beauty. There's been an increase in roadside littering, he said, and a big topic of conversation is the trend of private cabins rented continuously via AirBnb and Vrbo. styles cq
"We're starting to get people up here who aren't as self-reliant as they once were,'' Gecas said.